Some people just have it. That seems to be the best way to describe Jeremiah Abiah. Raised as one of twelve children in Rochester, New York, he was writing songs at age 10 and had performed at Carnegie Hall by age 21. He studied opera at Syracuse University and in the process learned to speak a half dozen languages. Most importantly to soul music fans, he also developed an incredible tenor voice -- think of it as a strong, multi-octave, operatic version of Frankie Beverly -- that led him to supporting work for such artists at Kem, Heather Headley and Rachelle Ferrell.
Jeremiah tapped both the joys and pains of his younger days -- including periods of being overweight as a child -- to compose the music that became Chasing Forever, his debut album on Siri Records. The album was a showcase for both Jeremiah's voice and for his expansive view of popular music, a view that certainly includes references to his classical training. The orchestration is lush and often dramatic, especially on the incredible ballad "Hope (The Reason Why)," the album's highlight and one of the most memorable vocal performances of the year. And while the rest of the compositions on the album weree somewhat uneven, the disc has legitimate high points in the midtempo cuts "Addicted to You" and "Love For Awhile" (a duet with Shanice), both of which highlight Jeremiah's substantial vocal talents and the album's smart production.
After Chasing Forever, we didn't hear much from Abiah. He continued to work in music, both as a backing singer and a vocal coach, always planning on his second album. He finally returned in August 2012 with his follow-up disc, Life As A Ballad.
by Chris Rizik
More About Abiah
Ask Abiah, (formerly known in the industry as Jeremiah), how he felt going in to record his sophomore studio album and this artist can sum it up in one word.
“Cautiously excited,” he says simply. Cautious?
“Completely, because I knew that it had to be better than the first — that it had to show growth and celebrate a new beginning in essence. I wrote the songs in 2 weeks, made notes on production, and thought about whom I wanted to work with. I wanted it to be conceptually beautiful.”
Abiah has certainly achieved success on that front. As with his previous album, 2006’s Chasing Forever (Universal Republic), the new album, Life As A Ballad, boasts of gems like the gorgeous opener, "September", a well orchestrated melange of achingly mature lyric writing full throated, flowing and tautly controlled vocal drama, lush Beatles-esque harmonies and transcendent, transporting melodicism. There is also the poignant "Doves", a modern interpretation of a Prince classic, as well as seven other self-penned originals.
But it’s hardly business as usual for this Rochester, NY native. It never is for Abiah, whose irrepressible spirit, engaging humor, and confident charisma once led Billboard magazine to call him “a singer with an innate ability for passionate songwriting that one cannot learn.”
To help him capture the songs’ intimacy, Abiah turned to Blue Note recording artist Robert Glasper, who happens to be his cousin, guitarist/arranger Marvin Sewell, his long time collaborator, and co-producers Keith Witty and Ulysses Owens, Jr. “We definitely have a great chemistry in the studio which is why we were able to record the entire album in one day. Talk about a quick turn around," Abiah says with a laugh. “Robert added such beautiful fabric to the music. Marvin was overflowing with genius and Keith helped me to find all the "right" things like a mad scientist.”
Abiah spent his childhood with his single mother, an accomplished musician who accompanied the late operatic Baritone William Warfield in earlier years. She introduced him to the singers who would become Abiah’s influences: Sarah Vaughn, Anita Baker and later Nina Simone. “They were great singers and song interpreters,” he says. “They were text painters and I believe that’s a lost art.”
Abiah honed his skills through the years as a background singer for artists George Michael, Chuck Mangione, Amel Larrieux and Yolanda Adams while cutting his chops in opera as a voice major in college. By the time his debut album was released in 2006, Abiah already knew exactly what he brought to the table — a warm, engaging voice and unassailable taste in music. His debut album was an underground smash. His video Love For a While, a duet with Shanice Wilson became a hit on VH1 Soul and BET J.
But along with his passion for coaching artists and creating great music in the studio, performing is what Abiah loves most. “There is nothing like feeling and seeing the atmosphere change in a room,” he says. “It’s so important to be in touch with your audience. They come to hear music but leave with their lives changed because of the music. That is my job and calling."